Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Opinion | Act together and quickly on climate change

The human costs of disasters would fall on low and lower middle-income countries

In 2015, when over 190 countries came together in Paris to make a joint declaration against climate change, the mood was buoyant and upbeat. As a similar global platform gathers in Poland to iron out a “rule book" to implement the Paris framework, the global mood could not be more different. The exit of the US from the Paris Agreement; a slew of recent studies which bring the window of irretrievable planetary change much closer (to 2040); and the glacial pace in effecting substantial carbon emission cuts have cast a pall of gloom.

The world has already warmed by 1°C since pre-industrial levels, and is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, in a business-as-usual scenario. That is the level at which significant climate impacts begin to hit large swaths of humanity, particularly climate-vulnerable countries such as India, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

A recent review by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, a wing of the agriculture ministry, predicts that crops, plantations and livestock in 151 districts (one-fifth of India’s districts) are susceptible to the impact of climate change. It is little wonder then that India, and even China, want to set and meet “bold and ambitious targets" under a global agreement, despite the non-participation of the US, which is the world’s second-largest carbon emitter.

India’s self-declared national target is to achieve 40% electric power generation from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, and reduce the emission intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% from the 2005 level. In the inaugural session of COP24 in Katowice, Poland, India reaffirmed that it is on track to meet these targets. The country has also installed 72GW of renewable energy capacity. The massive push towards renewable energy is a result of India’s leading role in promoting the International Solar Alliance (ISA), which pledged to generate 1,000GW of solar power capacity by 2030. At Katowice, India’s main theme would remain—One World One Sun One Grid.

But even as India strives to meet its goals, the bigger challenge remains the lack of consensus on climate action among the developing and developed countries. In November, India held two meetings with like-minded developing countries to collectively make a big issue of technology transfer and climate funding from the developed world “so that we don’t have a situation where they don’t deliver".

While the issue of climate funding dates back to Cancun in 2010—when rich nations first made a commitment to create a green corpus in order to help countries like India purchase new technology—there has been little money to show eight years down the line. For India to meet its national targets, and for global human-caused CO2 emissions to reach “net zero" by 2050, advanced technology to capture carbon has to be more widely available. While the Paris Agreement requires that developed countries “shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation", there is a continuing lack of clarity on the release of these funds and the modalities regarding its accountability and use.

COP24 is also significant as it is expected to finalize guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement adopted in 2016. The rulebook negotiations would be central to the Katowice conference, in the background of differences prevailing between developing and developed countries over its contents. The contention of developed countries is that the Paris accord makes them “liable" for climate change impacts, which is why they are reluctant to commit to specific emission targets. With this ambivalent stance, the developed countries could risk sending the signal that they do not want to help the developing countries in fulfilling their commitments.

In a recent report, the United Nations highlighted that people exposed to natural hazards in the poorest nations are seven times more likely to die than a similar person in the richest nations. The “protection gap" between the rich and the poor is evidently wide enough. Thus, the need of the hour is to strike a balance between the adaptation and mitigation, but in a manner that it does not put any additional burden on developing economies.

COP24 should be able to frame guidelines, which are pragmatic and gives due consideration to the challenges and priorities of developing countries—their vulnerabilities and challenges, including poverty, food security, energy access, and public-health.

India has already made it evident that the goals set in the Paris Agreement are non-negotiable. If the world wants to save the poor and vulnerable who account for more than half of the world’s population, the global temperature rise has to be curtailed at 1.5 °C.

The next 15 years are critical for action on climate change and any delay would only render it impossible to limit the level of planetary warming to even 2°C. Absolute economic losses might be concentrated in high-income countries, but the human costs of disasters would fall on low and lower middle-income countries.

And then, it might just be too late even if the world wants to come together to work towards a fix. We must act together, now and quickly.

Will COP24 be able to finalize guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement adopted in 2016? Tell us at views@livemint.com

Close